Electrical Safety

General: Electrical problems are among the most commonly cited OSHA violations. There are many specific standards that address electrical safety however the standard 1910.303(b)(1) serves as a catchall. What this means to you is that if an inspector can look at a piece of electric equipment and with common sense tell you that it is unsafe, then you can receive a citation.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI’s): The GFCI is a fast acting device that senses small current leakages to ground. Within 1/40 of a second it shuts off the electricity and “interrupts” the current flow. It provides effective protection against shocks and electrocution. GFCI’s are required for use on all construction sites and projects. GFCI’s are also required when work is conducted in wet or damp locations. If outlets are near sinks, showers or water fountains a GFCI may be required.

The OSHA standard 1910.305 (j)(2)(ii) states:

1910.305 (j)(2)(ii) A receptacle installed in a wet or damp location shall be suitable for the location.

The OSHA Construction standard says:

1926.404(b)(1)(ii) Ground-fault circuit interrupters. All 120-volt, single-phase 15- and 20-ampere receptacle outlets on construction sites, which are not a part of the permanent wiring of the building or structure and which are in use by employees, shall have approved ground-fault circuit interrupters for personnel protection…

Shop Made Cords with Receptacle Boxes: Among the most common electrical violation is when a multiple receptacle box, designed to be surface mounted, is fitted with a flexible cord and is placed on the floor to provide power to various tools or equipment. These are not permitted and should be taken out of service.

The OSHA Construction standard states:

1926.403(b)(2) Installation and use. Listed, labeled, or certified equipment shall be installed and used in accordance with instructions included in the listing, labeling, or certification.

Other commonly cited problems under this standard include the use of Romex wire for making up extension cords, the use of the wrong size circuit breakers/overcurrent protection and the use of equipment outdoors that are listed for dry locations only.

Extension Cords: Extension cords are convenient ways to provide power to portable equipment. However, they are often misused, resulting in injuries and expensive OSHA fines. Extension cords are intended only for temporary use with portable equipment. Extension cords may only be used for: remodeling, maintenance, repair or demolition of buildings and for temporary, holiday needs.

Flexible Cords: Flexible cords and cables are attached to appliances and should not be confused with extension cords that supplement the regular supply cords. Flexible cords can be used as pendants, for the wiring of fixtures, for the connection of portable lamps and appliances, for the connection of stationary equipment that is frequently moved, and to prevent transmission of noise or vibration and allow movement.

Flexible cords used for pendants must be provided with strain relief. Generally flexible cords that are designed into machinery are not a problem as long as they are in good condition.

Protect Flexible Cords from Damage: Flexible cords are extremely easily damaged when they are exposed to a sharp corners or edges. The damage may be visible if the outer sheath is damaged, or it may be harder to detect if a conductor or insulation is damaged inside the cord. As a result, OSHA requires employers to protect all flexible cords from damage. The actual OSHA standard says:

1910.305(a)(2)(iii)(G) Flexible cords and cables shall be protected from accidental damage. Sharp corners and projections shall be avoided. Where passing through doorways or other pinch points, flexible cords and cables shall be provided with protection to avoid damage.

The OSHA regulations prohibit the following uses of flexible cords (and extension cords):

  • as a substitute for fixed wiring (i.e. permanent)
  • when run through holes in walls, ceilings, or floors
  • when run through doorways or windows
  • when attached to building surfaces
  • when concealed by walls, ceiling, or floors

Splices: Splices are mainly used when an extension cord is damaged. In most cases splicing a damaged extension cord is not an option. Most extension cords are from14 to 16 gage. OSHA will only allow a 12 gage or larger cord to be spliced. Electrical tape cannot be used to splice a flexible cord.